The romantic comedy tells the story of an American economics professor, Rachel, who gets a culture shock when she meets her boyfriend Nick’s ultra-elite family in Singapore. Along the way, she gets some help from her friend, Peik Lin, and Nick’s fashionista cousin, Astrid. The set-in-Singapore movie also features many Singapore foodie hotspots and popular dishes.
Veteran Singapore chef and food consultant John See, who was the head of food team on Crazy Rich Asians in onsite, jointly oversaw a team of 50 cooks, food carvers and assistants to make sure that the dining scenes looked salivating on screen—down to the last morsel.
See worked under the head of the food team, Pelita Lim, to direct and style about half of the nine major food scenes in the movie, which included family meals at Tyersall Park, the first-class airline lounge onboard the fictitious Pacific Asean Airlines and the ostentatious wedding banquet thrown by society couple Colin Khoo and Araminta Lee in Gardens By The Bay.
See, who has done food styling for film productions since 2012, says “it was a big honor and so cool to be involved in a production with such high standards. Jon showed that there are no shortcuts to achieve perfection and I have not seen Singapore look so beautiful in a movie.”
He added that the food in the movie’s dining scenes were extensively captured from a multitude of camera angles. For example, for a shot of Peik Lin’s grandfather taking a bite of an abalone, 24 abalones were used to film just that one scene.
See, who does commercial food styling jobs across Asia, also had to take note of the actors’ dietary restrictions. For instance, Constance Wu, who plays Rachel, is allergic to shellfish and cannot handle spicy food.
Here, See shares what went into making five food scenes in Crazy Rich Asians look perfect for the silver screen.
Lunch At Peik Lin’s House
Location: An Agong’s Palace in Kuala Lumpur
Peik Lin’s mother, Neena, invites Rachel to “sit down for a simple lunch” in their sprawling Villa D’Oro. But See pointed out that the meal was anything but simple. “The lunch scene was filmed from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.,” he says. “Initially, everyone was so excited, but by lunchtime, we were so full.”
The dining table was decked out with ornate gold platters piled with 12 to 15 types of food. These included chicken rice with four de-boned white chickens, vegetables with mushrooms, yong tau foo, lobster and prawn cocktail, soup in an intricately carved winter melon bowl and auspicious gold-hued pineapples stuffed with rice. “The amount of food could feed an army of 20 to 30 people,” See exclaims. “Every time the director yelled ‘cut’ to do a retake, we had to replace the missing piece of food or reset the dishes for continuity in film production.”
And the food also had to taste good. See and his team of chefs cooked the dishes at a cooking facility about two to three miles from the house and had to shuttle back and forth.
Location: Gardens By The Bay
According to See, the wedding banquet scene was the most challenging. Recalling the enormity of the task, he says: “We had to cook a banquet for 300 people and the plates on each table had to be full and properly plated at all times. More so, when they were using drones to take overview shots of the scene.”
See’s team prepared a lavish East-meets-West buffet spread of 50 dishes including suckling pigs, scallops, lobsters, macarón towers, salmon and a gigantic seashell filled with beluga caviar.
Most of the caviar was made of mustard seeds dyed black, while the seafood items were made of dough. There was also Dom Pérignon to wash the food down. See adds that the food on each table had to look perfect and there always had to be five to seven types of food at all times to give a range of colors on screen.
See revealed that about 40% of the food was edible. “It is difficult controlling 300 calefares [industry slang for extras],” he says with a chuckle. “They were not supposed to eat the food, but some were naughty and we saw some empty plates.” He also had to grapple with humid weather at night and in the wee hours of the morning. The shoot, which spanned five days, started at 9:00 p.m. and “everything
had to be packed up by 5:00 a.m.” He “felt the pressure to work through the night” to replicate the same banquet set-up for each of the five shoot days there. Most of the food was prepared in a central kitchen or cooked in restaurants in Gardens By The Bay.
Location: Gardens By The Bay
See had to create the mother of all wedding cakes—complete with seven tiers. Though the cake was an artificial one, he was worried that the towering structure would topple due to strong gusts of wind.
Adorning the cake with flowers proved to be a headache as he had to ensure that the flowers had to come in the “color balance combination” on camera.
In the movie, Araminta smashed a slice of cake into Colin’s face, so See needed to ensure that the cake was “edible and tasty.”
He made 10 peach-hued buttercream cakes, each weighing 11 pounds, so that slices could be used for that cake-smashing scene.
The Hawker Center Scene Featuring Nick, Rachel, Araminta and Colin
Location: Newton Circus Food Center
See and his team took a week to plan this elaborate hawker scene. First, they made a special arrangement to pay 80% of the hawkers to remain during the shoot in order to create the illusion of a bustling hawker center.
Some of the stalls looked too “modern” and had to be rebuilt so that they looked like it was set in the 1990s. Four stalls, including a fried carrot cake stall and a chilli crab stall, were built from scratch in the middle of the hawker center.
Everything from the stall structure to the signboards were made. For that single scene that involved 1,000 extras, the team made sure that every table in the hawker center was filled with food, which meant 5,000 sticks of satay were served alongside more than 600 pounds of carrot cake.
The team also spent $9,000 on raw crabs for the chilli crab stall. Besides setting up the food, See also had to teach the actors the correct ways of cooking to accurately portray hawkers and ensured that a roaring wave of flames came out at the right time and manner beneath the stove.
See even traveled to Malacca to source retro dining ware with dragon and phoenix motifs that are reminiscent of 1990s and trawled archive books to look for dining ware from yesteryear.
Dumpling Breakfast at Tyersall Park
Location: A Colonial Bungalow in Malaysia
The Young clan sits down for a dumpling breakfast in the sprawling Tyersall Park mansion. In that scene, Nick’s mother, Eleanor (played by Michelle Yeoh), deftly rolls out pork dumplings. See, who had worked with Yeoh in 2013 on food-themed film Final Recipe, says that Yeoh was very good with her hands and picked up the folding of dumplings quickly.